Monday, January 27, 2014

Welcome To The Ditchers Club, Jimmy!

For those who don't know, The Ditchers Club is an informal group on Facebook made up of individuals who threw their hands up and left the Republican Party. Some of us were more active than others in GOP grassroots. But the common bond that unites us is realizing that trying to change the Republican Party from within is a hopeless cause. Thus, we "ditched" the party.

A couple of weeks ago, The Ditchers added a new member: Jimmy LaSalvia. The co-founder of GOProud announced that he changed his party registration from Republican to "No Party". He wrote:
"Today, I joined the ranks of unaffiliated voters. I am every bit as conservative as I’ve always been, but I just can’t bring myself to carry the Republican label any longer. You see, I just don’t agree with the big-government ‘conservatives’ who run the party now.
The other reason I am leaving is the tolerance of bigotry in the GOP. The current leadership lacks the courage to stand up to it – I’m not sure they ever will."
I was never a high profile GOP activist like Jimmy. For many years, I supported Republican candidates on Election Day but was never involved in grassroots activities. That all changed in 2008. After watching the GOP receiving back to back drubbings at the polls in 2006 and 2008, I decided to get involved in party politics along with another Republican friend.

The first thing we did was arrange a meeting with then County GOP Chairman. It was a very positive meeting. We all agree that the party could not continue on the same path and survive in the long run. That everything should be put "on the table" for discussion to determine what changes needed to be made. My friend and I left the meeting energized. Maybe. Just maybe, the GOP will pull itself together and modernize.

I never did see that table.

We joined a few Republican clubs in the hope that we could have discussions about policy; reforming the party; attracting young, women and minorities voters. After being politely reprimanded for challenging speakers, it became crystal clear that the sole purpose of the clubs was to be blind cheerleaders. Rah, rah. Everything GOP is great. Rah, rah. Everything Democrat will destroy America. Rah, rah.

Might as well save the membership dues.

Prior to getting involved in party activities, I believed that the mainstream media was exaggerating the influence of religious conservatives in the Republican Party. I always recognized that social conservatives were a key constituency; but, I did not believe that they were the heart and soul of the modern GOP. After all, Republicans I knew were all socially moderate and more concerned with national security and budget issues.

Boy, was I in for a big surprise.

The first hint that the mainstream coverage was accurate happened in 2006. A group of us attended a rally headlined by George W. Bush. The entertainment was Christian choirs and rock groups. Prayers were offered and the whole atmosphere resembled more a religious revival meeting than a political event. At one point one of my friends asked: "What happened to separation of church and state?"

I didn't have an answer. I was just thrilled to see the president of the United States.

Reality eventually mugged me in 2010. I was a delegate to the Texas Republican state convention. Once again, the atmosphere was that of an evangelical revival meeting. Speaker after speaker reminded the audience that America was a Christian nation. Protecting the unborn and Christian values was their top priority as party activists. But the real opener was a conversation I had with a lady attending the convention.

For some reason or another, she and I got into a discussion about whether or not the Log Cabin Republicans should be able to get a booth at the next state convention. The mere mention of gay Republicans made her to recoil in horror. Her reaction was so visceral that I was shocked. However, I was in for more shock.

A friend overheard our conversation and decided to step in. He said that - even though he disagreed with the Log Cabin Republicans over the issue of same sex marriage - the group was solidly conservative on all other issues. He also added that to win elections the party should be inclusive and not drive away voters that were in line with most of the party stances. The lady replied, "I am not interested in winning elections. I am interested in pleasing God." My jaw dropped. I was speechless. Something that I don't experience very often.

It is impossible to reason with someone who believes he or she is doing God's work. History tells us that. And if winning elections is not a priority, then what is the point of having a political party? No wonder I never saw that famous table where everything was going to be put up for discussion. It would have been a pointless exercise. Best to lash  out at the Democrats and pretend that the mainstream media misrepresents the GOP base.

Nevertheless, I hung on. Hoping against hope that more people like me would be able to make inroads. That somehow reason would prevail. Surely, our little band of friends were not the only one who realized that the course the GOP was on will only lead to extinction.

In 2012, whatever flicker of hope I had about working within the GOP was snuffed out. Watching a clown car of candidates get more traction than serious individuals. Instead of moving to the center, the party was driven further right. I saw no point in staying and left.

It felt FANTASTIC! No more having to deny the undeniable. No more defending the indefensible. No more running in place.

Since leaving the GOP, Jimmy LaSalvia has given several interviews explaining his decision. I have caught a few and one thing stood out. Jimmy said several times that he didn't understand why the Republican Party will not change. I often wondered the same myself. Anyone who knows anything about politics understands that relying on a shrinking pool of voters is no road to future victories. There has been a tremendous shift in public option in favor of same sex marriage and yet the GOP insists on hanging on to its traditional marriage stance. Why?

I finally found the answer watching C-Span. As part of its Lectures in History series, Arizona State’s history professor Donald Critchlow was featured discussing the revival of the Republican Party in the 1970s. The lecture is about an hour long plus extra time for Q&As but it is worthwhile for those who want to understand the box the GOP finds itself in.

After the Watergate scandal, only about 20% of the electorate identified as Republicans and some suggested the party would go the way of the Whigs. By joining forces with Phyllis Schlafly's campaign to stop the ERA, the GOP was able to bring evangelicals, Mormons and conservative Catholics into the tent and re-energize the party. Abortion, school prayer, traditional values were used to attract and keep these activists. They are the party's foot soldiers. Asking the GOP to forgo social conservatives is like asking the Democrats to forgo labor unions. Unlikely to happen.

Enjoy your new freedom Jimmy. I have no doubt that you will be more effective in promoting limited government now that you are outside the Republican Party. The Ditchers are proud to have you. Let's get to work and make our country better.